How Tall Mom Saved $1190+ on her recent Universal Studios Florida Trip – And how you can, too!

That’s right, y’all.  Tall Mom’s family spent Christmas Week in Orlando and while there enjoyed local attractions such as three days at Universal Studios.  Tall Mom is always looking to live like a princess on a pauper travel budget, so I dipped my toes into the world of travel hacking.  Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t gone big time like “The Points Guy” (wow, he’s impressive) but I kept it low maintenance and aimed at saving the greatest amount on the item that would cost (since we are able to drive there from North Carolina) the most for a five night trip:  hotel cost during absolute peak season.

To be clear, I’m not a camper, and I keep my hotel expectations pretty high.  I haven’t made it to Trump hotel status but neither am I lodging at the Motel 6 (with my apologies to the 6). Our most recent stay at Universal was at their onsite Loew’s Sapphire Falls Resort.  Being able to take a boat over to the entrance to the park was a fantastic perk but the price tag was steep, and so I wanted to branch out to some non-park options.  In our travels we have stayed several times at Sheratons and we absolutely adore the Simmons mattress used at their locations.  At the end of a day of fun and sightseeing what you really want for a room is something you can count in terms of comfort and cleanliness and a bed that will support a good night’s rest.

To write that I completed some research about how to move forward is a vast understatement.  I’m detail obsessive in personality style when it comes to travel plans and just don’t like “playing around” in credit cards.  Tall Family already has enough bills to pay!  When the bonus offer looked strong, I took the leap and applied for the SPG/Starwood credit card.  My job was to spend $3000 over 90 days to earn points toward a hotel stay.  The timing was carefully planned as I knew we would be making a large, planned purchase.  In addition I added every day spending to the card.  I kept a close tab of items purchased such as groceries and gas.  I made sure I met the limit in the time frame and then was awarded a few weeks later with the coveted points.

Next on the “to do” list was to select a Sheraton location in Orlando that was a good fit for my family.  Fortunately, there are several in the area to consider.   Having been to Universal previously I had noticed that the Four Points by Sheraton closest to Universal might be a good option simply based on convenience and location.  It’s a brief walk/drive from the hotel over to the parks.  I had scoped out the hotel earlier and knew that it was an older building and parking is abundant and restaurants are readily available nearby on International Drive.  For our situation it seemed like a contender but since my son was bringing along a friend I was concerned that we may need more room to spread out rather than crowding four people in a room.  (I also considered getting two adjoining rooms.)  We wanted this to be a more leisurely trip to Orlando than the past few with some time to rest and simply, soak up Vitamin D by the pool.  Four Points is a solid choice for the park warrior who will spend long hours on coasters and seeing shows.  Currently at 3750 points per night, staying at the International Drive location after earning the SPG bonus would mean that you could have a free five night stay and have points remaining for an upcoming adventure.

After meticulous studying with my best travel friend, Tripadvisor, I chose to book at Sheraton’s Vistana Villages  After making the decision, I had no issues booking with points and took advantage of the stay fifth night free deal.  Vistana Villages generally runs 8 to 10,000 points per night.  It’s a considerable difference from the Four Points cost but they are considerably different experiences as well.  Vistana Villages is a sprawling resort with three pool areas as well as a basketball and tennis court.  It is an impressive oasis and was decorated for the holiday season while we were there.

The room itself fit us perfectly as there was a bedroom and a separate living area complete with full kitchen.  We scored a corner room in building four that was always quiet despite the peak season, and we had a lovely view of one of the pool areas and also ponds outside.  When the crowds at Universal simply became too much, we were all glad to pile back in the car and travel 15-20 minutes back to a location far more secluded.  Rooms were up-to-date, comfortable, and clean.  Parking was never an issue. On New Year’s Eve I watched fireworks outside our bedroom window.   And we also had Mom’s most important amenity:  a washer and dryer.  That’s right.  Tall Mom brought home no dirty clothes.  What a win.

In case you are wondering, no, we didn’t have to sit through a sales presentation.  When we checked out I wondered if there would be a resort fee to pay, but no, this stay was really free thanks to the card’s points.



As I mentioned, I am a reluctant credit card dabbler but must admit that one of the added pluses of working toward the points toward our stay improved my skill at noting each expenditure and I simply kept better tabs on spending.  When I priced our stay at Vistana Villages for the holiday week, the going rate was $238 per night or about $1200 for the five nights.  But Tall Mom didn’t pay a penny which made loosening up in some other areas a bit more comfortable.  For example, we had initially planned to go to Universal Studios for two days but ended up being able to go for three.  Stay tuned to see how that became possible without an extra cost!

Interested in using SPG/Starwood Preferred Guest points for your upcoming adventures in Orlando or beyond?    (Tall Mom’s SPG link)  I do not receive any compensation of any kind for your use of the link.  Please note that sign up offers change from time-to-time but even the standard sign up of 25,000 points will get your stay covered at Four Points or a few nights at Vistana Villages.  Current terms on the card waive the first year fee, so you could cancel the card or keep it ($95 fee after a year).  Tall Family will be keeping the card for a while to try out the free annual night benefit (up to 35,000 points) that is supposedly coming along as a benefit in August 2018.

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